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NEW: Agreement Reached to Open Compassion Centers

Friday, March 02, 2012


Legislative leaders and the sponsors of legislation to allow compassion centers to distribute medical marijuana have reached an agreement with Gov. Lincoln Chafee that will allow the centers to open their doors.

After the General Assembly approved legislation to create compassion centers in 2009 over former governor Donald Carcieri’s veto, Governor Chafee ordered a halt to the licensing process last year over concerns that the federal government would target them or patients using their services.

After a series of meetings between legislators and the governor, Sen. Rhoda E. Perry and Rep. Scott A. Slater will sponsor legislation that will put stricter limits on compassion centers, designed to prevent them from being shut down or raided by federal agents.

“This is a good compromise that strengthens the safety of compassion centers. We just want patients to get some relief, soon. While we believe the existing law is good, this change will make it better by making our centers less of an issue for the federal government. Nobody in Rhode Island would want to see patients get caught up in some federal raid or lose access to their medicine, and if these changes further minimize that issue, they are positive for patients,” said Representative Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence). His late father, Rep. Thomas D. Slater, alongside Senator Perry, sponsored both the law establishing compassing centers and Rhode Island’s medical marijuana law. The medical marijuana law was named after him and Senator Perry’s late nephew, Thomas Hawkins.

The legislation will allow the Department of Health to regulate limits on the amount of marijuana that a compassion center may grow and possess, since the magnitude of the marijuana and the resulting income it generates for privately run compassion centers appears to be a key element of concern for federal officials. It also allows registered patients or caregivers who grow up to their allotted maximums, but do not need the entire amount for themselves or their patients, to sell the excess to a compassion center, as long as the limits of the grower and the purchasing center are not exceeded. That provision is designed to address concerns about the illegal sale of excess marijuana.

The three centers that were already approved by the Department of Health after a public bidding process to be licensed will be able to operate under the new limits, so leaders expect the centers will be able to move swiftly to open.

“Our main concern is getting compassion centers up and running for the many suffering patients who still have no legal way to obtain their prescription medicine,” said Senator Perry (D-Dist. 3, Providence). “It’s been three years now since we approved compassion centers. That’s a long time for patients to wait for relief from pain and illness. We already have three legitimate organizations that have been approved and are ready and willing to serve Rhode Island’s patients and the quicker we move on these amendments, the less time Rhode Island’s sick and dying will spend suffering.”

Senator Perry introduced the legislation (2012-S 2555) in the Senate yesterday with 13 cosponsors. Representative Slater expects to submit his bill today, with 44 cosponsors.

Governor Chafee supports the bill.

“Since the Rhode Island medical marijuana law invited federal action, I have been working with advocates on a remedy. I applaud Senator Perry and Representative Slater for their work and I look forward to passage of a bill that will avoid federal intervention and bring needed medicinal relief to those who stand to benefit,” said Governor Chafee.


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